What do customers expect when choosing a retailer?

Now more than ever, customers have a lot of choice when it comes to shopping online. For any product they want or need, there are at least a few if not many brands vying for their attention and money. 

This means that customers have also become more selective than ever about the brands they buy from. They no longer have to rely on one or two brands they can find in person, they can even buy from international brands. 

Today, we’re going to talk about what exactly has driven customers to be so selective, and what matters most when they’re choosing between brands. We’re also going to look at how you can improve your store’s experience to meet and exceed customer expectations.

Why customers are more selective than ever

Over the last few years, customers have become increasingly selective about the brands they choose to shop with online. This is in part due to their expectations growing in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, as many consumers had the most exposure they’d ever had to online shopping and ecommerce. Brick-and-mortar only retailers moved online, online-only brands saw significant growth, there was a huge increase in subscription commerce, and more. As the effects of the pandemic on retail eased off, customer expectations remained. Even as they returned to in-person shopping, customers still wanted to get that same level of quality experience as they’d become accustomed to.

Which brings us to today. 88% of customers believe brands need to step up their digital innovation, and consumers also expect brands to provide a seamless experience across all channels including online and in-person. And when brands get that experience right, they reap the rewards - 73% of customers say that customer experience is an important factor in their purchasing decisions. Plus, when provided a positive experience, 87% of customers are more likely to purchase again from that brand.

Just as a positive experience impacts loyalty, so too does a negative experience. According to a survey conducted by PwC, 73% of customers say that a poor customer experience is a primary reason to switch to a competitor. By contrast, only 52% said they’d switch due to product quality. 

The key takeaway here is that if ecommerce merchants want to continue growing their business, they need to see customer experience as a priority. They also need to meet expectations at each point in that experience. 

What matters most when customers have to choose one product over another?

With customers being more selective, let’s look deeper into what exactly they look for when they’re choosing between two products. There are a number of different factors that play into purchasing decisions, especially if the customers is at the very beginning of their brand discovery journey. After all, if they’ve never purchased a product before, they’ll still be looking to compare and weigh up their options. Whereas with a customer who has purchased before, they should have little reason to consider another brand. However, depending on if their expectations were met during their first purchase, that could be at risk. 

In order to fully understand customer decisions, you need to split your audience in two - new customers, and returning customers. New customers will be more sensitive to things like product quality and price, though experience will still trump both. If they read reviews that the product was good but the experience was frustrating, it will be off-putting. Returning customers will have went through your customer experience, so their decision will have more to do with how they felt about that experience. 

In either case, there are three factors that typically come up when discussing customer expectations - experience, product, and price. What most often comes out on top is experience - 86% of customers will even pay more for a better experience. 

So let’s talk about experience - what matters most, and how you can improve your own approach. The customer experience is made up of lots of different touch points, making it unique to product and price which are relatively straightforward by comparison. There are touch points from the moment the customer discovers your brand, through to the purchasing process, and into the post-purchase phase.

Here are some touch points to consider:

  • On-site Experience
  • Checkout 
  • Customer Service 
  • Dispatch and Delivery
  • Unboxing 
  • Product Experience 
  • Social Media
  • Email and SMS communication
  • Incentives and Loyalty 
  • Returns and Exchanges 

These are just a few of many. Let’s take a look at some of the crucial touch points that merchants should optimize. 

On-site experience 

The experience you provide on your site is going to be make-or-break for many customers. According to Adobe, 38% of visitors will leave your site if they find the content difficult to navigate. That’s a huge chunk of your potential customers that you may be able to keep on your site with some improvements. 

Here’s what matters in your on-site experience:

  • Site navigation - Is it easy for customers to get to the pages they want, and back to pages they were previously viewing? Do your categories and subcategories make sense to a wide range of people?
  • Accessibility - This relates to things like font size and legibility, color choices, and how easy it is to interact with elements on a page i.e. button size. 
  • Page layout - The way content is presented on different pages matters to customers. If it flows and makes sense, it will drive conversions. How much content makes sense, and how should it be organized?
  • Product page content - The content of a product page should give customers all the information they need to make a purchase. From product descriptions to images, to video content, added information, delivery info and more. Too little information and you risk driving customers away.
  • Reviews - Customers trust other customers, so make it easy for them to find the opinions of their peers.
  • Mobile experience - Oftentimes, we build and manage stores on desktop however most customers start their journey on mobile. Does your store translate well to mobile devices?
  • Additional information - What other resources do you provide to your customers? Do you have a comprehensive FAQ, or a searchable support portal? Chatbots with product suggestions, or support live chat?

It’s worth taking each of these in turn and analyzing them to discover opportunities for improvement. Do this through the lens of different audience personas - will your site provide an equally great experience to someone who knows little about your products, and someone who’s highly knowledgeable? This will give you a more complete picture of your on-site experience and clearly highlight any gaps to solve. 

Customer Service

Providing excellent customer service should be a priority for your store. Not only does it add to your customer experience, but it can have a major impact on retention. According to a study by Hubspot, 93% of customers are more likely to make repeat purchases from brands that offer excellent customer service. On the flip side, 61% of customers say they’d switch brands after just one negative customer support experience. Making improvements to your customer support strategy therefore can net big wins for your store’s growth. 

So, what matters most to customers as part of their customer support experience? 

  • Fast response and resolution - Customers don’t want to wait, otherwise they may look to other brands to satisfy their needs.
  • Knowledgeable, empathetic staff - There’s not much worse as a customer than having a query, and being passed along to different staff due to a lack of knowledge, or explaining the situation to multiple representatives. 
  • Personalized experience - Customers receive a personalized experience throughout the rest of their journey, the same should apply to support. 

To speed up response and resolution, consider adding in or bolstering your self-service options. According to Zendesk, 98% of customers have tried self-service support at some point, and 37% always use self-service as their first option. This includes searchable support portals and chatbots, so customers can get an instant answer. 

As for improving the knowledge of your staff and personalizing the experience, making use of a customer support platform can go a long way in aiding this. These will provide your support team with information about each customer - their order history, other interactions with customer support, personal details, etc. This allows them to provide a more personalized, knowledgeable experience for the customer when they interact with them. 

Dispatch and Delivery

Sometimes when you order something online, the delivery process is a breeze. Other times, you’re left wondering where your package is and if it will ever arrive. Especially during periods such as the holiday season, this becomes a major issue for your customers. They want to know where their order is, and when it will arrive. Communication is a vital part of the customer experience, and if you can provide that then your customers will reward you with loyalty. 

It doesn’t take much to give customers a better dispatch and delivery experience. Customers want more comprehensive order tracking that prioritizes accuracy over speed. It’s better to know exactly when an order is due to arrive, and be able to see exactly where an order is. That’s where real-time tracking tools will come in very useful. These can provide customers with accurate, up-to-date information presented in an easy-to-understand format whenever they want to check in. 

You’ve provided your customers with a great on-site experience, and they’re being sent a high quality product. So you don’t want to spoil your chances at retention with a subpar delivery experience. 

Returns and Exchanges

They may be a pain for merchants, but returns and exchanges can result in higher retention rates and customer loyalty. 96% of customers believe a brand’s returns policy reflects how much they care about their customers, and 57% say they won’t shop with a retailer after a negative returns experience. In more positive news, 90% of customers make repeat purchases based on a brand’s returns policy alone. So the better your policy, the more likely it will be that customers stick around to place another order.

Here’s some simple steps that can improve any returns experience:

  • Add more flexibility - Give customers options for how to return their order, such as drop-off points, at-home pick-up, etc. so it’s easy for them to actually return the item without too much inconvenience. Then make it flexible for how to resolve the return, i.e. cash refund, store credit, exchange, part-exchange etc.

  • Make it easy to initiate - Don’t force the customer to work for a return. Make it clear on your site how to initiate a return, and make the process straightforward.

  • Be clear on product pages - Customers appreciate when brands are upfront. And in fact, communicating your returns policy on product pages will build trust with customers, demonstrating transparency and commitment to making the experience better for customers.

  • Communicate during post-purchase - It isn’t enough to have your returns policy on your website, you need to tell customers once they’ve actually placed an order. Add links to returns info into transactional emails, and even send an automated email once an order has been delivered letting customers know about your returns process should they need it. This extra bit of communication will be welcomed by your customers.

Bonus - What about product and price?

We’ve discussed at length why experience is so important and what you can improve to make more impact on your customers. However, there are the other two deciding factors we haven’t discussed - product and price. 

When it comes to experience, there are lots of ways you can improve on it and get the edge over your competitors. This is more difficult to do with product and price, which is why experience is typically what many marketers focus on. 

With products, customers want high quality and longevity. In other words they want to know the product they purchase is going to suit their needs and will be less likely to run into issues. The only way you can do this is through strict quality control and testing, making improvements to your production process. Many customers won’t see this though, and of course being your product you will say on your website that your products are high quality.

The best way you can make product quality a real deciding factor for customers is by encouraging customer reviews. 98% of customers feel reviews are important to them when making a decision, with 79% specifically seeking out stores with reviews . If your previous customers will attest to the quality of your products, this gives new customers more confidence and reason to purchase them. 

Price is a much more difficult factor to become competitive with. Normally by competitive, we mean the best value in relation to the product, however that is highly subjective especially with customers. Some customers may see the cheapest as the best value, while others may view mid-range priced products as the best value for their money. The less advised strategy is to continue to try to be the cheapest against your competitors. This ends up becoming a sort of “race to the bottom”, and devalues your product while restricting your profit margins. It’s unsustainable in the long run. 

One way to sway price to your advantage is by using incentives such as one-off discounts or gift cards. These give customers who may be uncertain about spending as much money the ability to try your product for a slightly reduced rate. They can then see how great your customer experience is and the quality of your product, and feel more confident in a future purchase.

All in all, there are ways to improve upon product and price, however there are more opportunities in customer experience. Especially given customers are more likely to be influenced by customer experience and pay more for a positive one. 


Customer experience truly is one of the major battlegrounds in ecommerce. All it takes is for your store to have the better delivery experience, or a better communication strategy, and you’ll have a major edge over your competitors. The opportunities to improve CX can have a long-term impact on your customer acquisition and retention building a stronger, more sustainable business.